Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

Caring, Honest, Solutions to Your Legal Needs at Affordable Rates.

Month: September 2016

What Estate Planning Documents Do I Need?

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

As an Estate Planning attorney, I often get questions about what documents are needed to form an estate plan, and to keep together for your heirs.  I have compiled a list of items you will need to have knowledge of at an estate planning meeting, and also keep in an easily accessible fire-resistant safe, safety deposit box, or with a trusted advisor, for your heirs.


-Trust (optional.  Can be revocable or irrevocable)


-Power of Attorney (optional, depending on your estate planning needs)

-Advance Directive for Health Care

-Letter of Instruction

Account Information

-List of banks where accounts are held

-List of usernames and passwords for online accounts

-List of automatic pay accounts

-List of safe-deposit boxes and combination code for safes

-List of retirement accounts (401Ks, ROTHs, IRAs, Mutual Funds, Pensions, etc)

-Annuities and Life insurance policies (include those owned privately and through your employer)

-Stock and Bond accounts and brokerage information

-Any long term care policies

Additional Documents

-Property Deeds

-Cemetery Plot info

-Mortgage accounts

-Information on loans given and/or received

-Title to automobiles and other vehicles

-Tax returns from the past three (3) years

-Marriage License/Decree of Divorce

-Any paperwork concerning discharge from the military

-Contact information, including names and addresses, on accounts, people named in your legal documents, and professional advisors (attorney, CPA, financial advisor, etc.)

Be sure to leave a key, or combination, with the person you chose to manage your estate, in case anything happens to you.  Nothing is more stressful than trying to untangle a loved one’s estate and assets during a time of mourning.  Leave your family a gift and make it as easy as possible for them to handle your estate and affairs once you are gone.

Estate Planning for Business Owners

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Many people don’t want to think about what will happen after they die. Business owners are no exception. But, estate planning, though important for everyone, may be even more important for business owners.

Have you thought about what happens to your business when you die? Who will take over? Will your family receive a portion of your business, or step in and run it? Do you want the power to make those decisions, or do you want to leave it up to a Court to decide? Most business owners are not comfortable with the prospect of giving a Court control to decide who will run their business, or whether the business will continue.

It is even more important for businesses that have more than one owner to consider estate planning, succession, and even life insurance for their owners. As a partner in a business, how would you feel if your partner’s long lost cousin, and only heir, were given control of his portion of the business when he died unexpectedly? I imagine you would not be too happy.

Also, as businesses grow, so do their assets. At some point, tax planning considerations may come into play. Though these considerations are part of a larger estate plan, they are likely to affect a business owner more than an employee.

At the very least, business owners should have a Will that states who their assets, including their businesses, will go to when they die.  Owners should also consider having a trust put in place to avoid probate and continue the business as seamlessly as possible on death or disability. For businesses with more than one owner, business agreements between the owners are absolutely critical. These documents will lay out actions for buying out other members, dissolving the business, and handling death or disability.

Life insurance policies are a crucial element to any estate plan, but they are especially vital for owners. They provide funds for family members to pay business and personal debts, or, in the case of multiple owner businesses, they allow the business members to buy out heirs on the death of another member. They provide large liquid assets the business may not otherwise have.

Business owners and entrepreneurs are in a class all their own. They are progressive, hearty, strong individuals. They are more likely to take risks, but leaving succession to chance is too great a risk to take. Entrepreneurs owe their families the safety and security of healthy estate plans.

Joint Tenancy Pitfalls

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

I have had several people tell me they do not need an Estate Plan because they own everything jointly with their children, or they want to.  Though it is true owning property in joint tenancy with right of survivorship means the other owner receives everything on the death of the joint owner, there are some pitfalls to joint tenancy that you must be aware of before making that change:

(1) Loss of Control.

The original owner loses control of the asset when the asset is listed with a joint owner.  The new owner has the same ownership as the original owner and big decisions can no longer be made without the approval of both owners.  For instance, if Mom has Son on the Deed to her home as a joint owner and she wants to sell her home, Son has to agree and sign off on the sell.

(2) Access.

The new owner will have the same access to the property as the original owner. Take a bank account, for example.  If the account is owned jointly, the new owner can write checks off of the account to pay his or her own bills, without the consent of the original owner.

(3) Creditors.

Once property is owned jointly, the new owner has equal right and access to it.  That means their creditors do as well.  Son has a large amount of debt he owes.  If Son is named as a joint owner on Mom’s home, Son’s creditors can file a lien on Mom’s home for Son’s debt.

(4) Tax Issues.

Joint property is taxed differently than an inheritance.  When a new owner is named as a joint owner, there can be tax implications.  Let’s say Son agreed to the sell of Mom’s home in our earlier example.  Since Son does not live in the home, his portion of the sell is taxed to him very differently than Mom’s and he may be liable for a large tax payment.

Though joint tenancy works very well in some situations, it must be used carefully.  If you are considering joint ownership, please be sure to do your research first so that you do not encounter unintended consequences.

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